Public Records Access, Metadata, and Privacy in New Mexico
New Mexico’s Inspection of Public Records Act is a public records accessibility law that was first passed in 1978. The provisions of the law outline the steps that members of the general public must take in order to access, inspect, and copy the public records of the multitude of government institutions that serve citizens within the state of New Mexico. To this point, the Inspection of Public Records Act also establishes the specific records that members of the public are permitted to access, as well as the procedures that government entities must implement to ensure that people can effectively access the public records of such institutions.
How are public records defined under the law?
Under New Mexico’s Inspection of Public Records Act, public records are defined as “all documents, papers, letters, books, maps, tapes, photographs, recordings, and other materials, regardless of physical form or characteristics, that are used, created, received, maintained or held by or on behalf of any public body and relate to public business, whether or not the records are required by law to be created or maintained.” Alternatively, as it pertains to the scope and application of the law, New Mexico’s Inspection of Public Records Act covers “all divisions of government and any public body that was created by statute and receives any public funding.”
What are the duties of records custodians under the law?
The duties that are placed on records custodians under the New Mexico’s Inspection of Public Records Act as it concerns the accessibility of the public records that are maintained by said custodians include but are not limited to:
- Records custodians have an obligation to respond to all requests for access to the public records that are in the possession of said custodians within three business days.
- Records custodians are prohibited from charging members of the general public a fee that exceeds $1.00 for each page that is copied from the records that are maintained by such custodians.
- Records custodians have a duty to redact confidential information that may be contained within the public records they maintain prior to disclosing said records to a requestor. What’s more, records custodians must also redact or remove the metadata that is associated with confidential information, in instances where public records are maintained in an electronic format.
- Records custodians are required to provide access to their public records in an electronic format if a member of the general public requests them to do so.
- Records custodians are prohibited from requesting that a member of the public provide them with a specific line of reasoning when looking to access the public records of said custodians.
- Records custodians are responsible for providing members of the public with a written explanation when denying access to their public records.
What public records are exempt from disclosure under the law?
Certain public records that be maintained by a government institution or public body within the state of New Mexico are also considered to be exempt from public access and disclosure under the provisions of the law. For example, members of the public are not permitted to access law enforcement records that contain confidential sources of information. Moreover, military discharge records are also exempt from disclosure under the law. Subsequently, some further examples of public records and government-related information that are exempt from public dissemination include:
- Medical and healthcare records.
- Educational records.
- Tactical response plans and procedures.
- Trade secrets and commercial information.
- Information regarding attorney-client privilege.
- Financial information.
- Voter registration information.
- Local government databases.
- Juvenile records.
- Workplace safety inspections.
- Public securities.
Maintaining compliance with the law
As the provisions of New Mexico’s Inspection of Public Records Act require records custodians to redact both confidential information and metadata from certain public records prior to disclosing said records to a member of the general public, these government officials have a daunting task at hand. With this being said, automatic redaction software provides such officials with a software solution that will enable them to remove both confidential data and metadata from their public records. When utilizing these software programs, users can redact personally identifiable information, metadata, and audio files, among other things, in a matter of minutes. In this way, records custodians within the state of New Mexico can have the peace of mind that they will be able to comply with the law while simultaneously protecting the personal privacy of all parties involved.
As stated in the law, New Mexico’s Inspection of Public Records Act was enacted for the purpose of granting members of the general public with a means by which they could gain a more complete understanding of the function of government agencies and institutions that operate within the state. Under the provisions of the law, any members of the general public can request access to a litany of documents and public records regarding a host of government activities. In this way, citizens, media members, and visitors of the state of New Mexico can all become more informed about the decisions that affect everyday life within the state.